I recently attended the high school graduation ceremony for my nephew, another young black man leaving high school successfully. However, as a group of choral singers attended to their graduation song “Take me home, country roads”, I could not help but to put his accomplishment in a context. For those of you unfamiliar with the song, the chorus goes like this:
Country roads, take me home
To the place, I belong
West Virginia, mountain mama
Take me home, country roads
We celebrated this young man walking across the stage and his journey from making that initial step into kindergarten to completing high school. I could not help thinking about how he entered a world where he found his sense of belonging through athleticism. Yet, across each stage of his life course from elementary, to middle school and high school, there were reminders that he did not belong. There were those agitators who suspended him because he was around the wrong crowd or because he appeared disrespectful.
He ran smiling onto the football field with a level of naïve optimism only to have reminders along the way that this white world will only accept you on a few conditions. Those conditions meant his body could occupy white space as long as his expressions were contained on the football field, jutting, boisterous, posturing in the end zone is fine just don’t bring that into the hallways of our school. Those conditions included a high degree of acquiescence and silence back in the classroom. He, like so many other black boys, navigate through white spaces that are more often policed and become increasingly hostile against children who are unable to assimilate or buy into the cultural norms of whiteness.
His road home was a place for him to be a youth still, a child who watched movies, played video games, and walk through hallways without anyone fearing his over 6-feet tall body.
Country roads are reminders of black bodies tied by ropes around the neck and pulled by trucks down dirt roads. He will make his way into college, but his shadow remains hunted by those young black boys who were unable to walk across the stage, to finish high school. The universe did not select him as a sacrifice, a police officer did not accost him for walking while black, a mistaken identity, another did not release bullets into his body. He will soon drive up 95 through the highways of the south and into the north checking his rearview mirror for those blue lights, double checking he has all his IDs, registration. He will arrive on a campus where the majority of black bodies exist as names on the rosters of sports teams. I think back to the verse in the song that reads:
I hear her voice, in the morning hour she calls me
The radio reminds me of my home far away
And driving down the road, I get a feeling
That I should have been home yesterday, yesterday
I pray that my nephew holds on to the memories of still being young, of innocence, and pride. I ask my God to protect him from the evil doers who are afraid of black bodies and the voices that arise; keep him alive as he travels back and forth up and down 95, the road from the south to the north and back again. Always bring him home.